Touring Charleston’s Magnolia Plantation, Beaches, and, Batteries

By day two of our Spring Break Charleston trip, we had ironed out the biggest camping problems and were able to get a smooth start to a day of exploring. Our main destination on April 5th was Magnolia Plantation, which has the gardens and landscaping you would expect to see in a movie or show about the Antebellum South.


Complete with an abundance of Spanish moss!


It is so picturesque that this is picture I took with my phone looks like promotional material.


Once we arrived at the plantation, we made our way to the gates to obtain tickets to the gardens and the Audubon Swamp tour. This was easier said than done, as the wait was unexpectedly long despite the short lines, mainly because many of our fellow tourists decided which of the various plantation attractions they would visit only when they reached the front of the line. The couple in front of me actually waited to get into an argument about which tickets they would buy when they reached the front of the line, because arguing over the ticket purchase in the thirty minutes they were standing with nothing to do would have been far too convenient for everyone. It was as if someone had bussed in 100 McDonald’s customers, particularly the people who reach the front of the line at McDonald’s only to be struck dumb by the unexpected presence of Chicken McNuggets on the menu, a realization that seems to prompt a deep existential bout of self-reflection about the life choices they were making.


To enter the plantation house or not to enter the plantation house, that is the question.

One advantage to waiting in a long line was that we picked up all kinds of useful information…


…which we promptly tested out.


This peacock, apparently worn down by a life of being “cornered” by tourists, could no longer be startled and did not inflict injury on McKenna when McKenna decided to touch its tail.

Magnolia has acres and acres of gardens and trails, and we wandered through the gardens near the house first.


The bridge in the background was a magnet for the same tourists who couldn’t figure out how lines work at the ticket gate. There should be a warning along the lines of the “cornered peacock” sign: PLEASE LOWER YOUR EXPECTATIONS NEAR THE HUMANS ON THE BRIDGE. THE PART OF THEIR BRAINS THAT MAKE THEM AWARE OF THE NEEDS OF OTHER HUMANS HAS BEEN DISABLED.


Hey! I found some Spanish moss in these gardens!

The gardens included a horticultural maze which McKenna “solved” roughly 15,000 times. Clearly, she is gifted.


Although it must be said that the maze’s degree of difficulty had been reduced by the fact that it did not feature a gate requiring visitors to choose between various plantation attractions to see.

The flowers at the plantation were in full bloom. We have visited the gardens of Versailles in June and not been so lucky.

Not into flowers? Well, at the gardens, you will also see…



Eventually, we made it to the old rice patty part of the plantation, which is now a lake/swamp bordered by giant trees.


Also near the patties: Spanish moss.

By this time, McKenna was just about in starvation mode, and had developed a hanger that would make her a danger to cornered peacocks. We had not expected to be gone this long in the gardens, especially given Laura’s typical attention span at historical sites, so we quickly extricated ourselves from the gardens and returned to the car for our packed lunch. After lunch, we set off to find the Audubon Swamp Gardens, only to find that the Magnolia map makers had been coy about identifying the entrance.


“I believe that one of these dashed lines holds the key to entering the swamp gardens…”

With the help of one of the Magnolia shuttle drivers, we decoded the map and found the entrance. Earlier, when we purchased tickets and learned about the aggressive nature of cornered peacocks, we were given a code to use at the swamp garden gate.


The gate seemed to be malfunctioning, as the code only caused it to open about a foot and half. Using the infiltration techniques we had honed at Disney’s Polynesian Resort last year, we slipped by the gate and entered the garden. This prompted Laura and I to begin discussing how easy it would be to enter the garden for free. Because we are awesome parents.

Spending two days in Charleston has made me something of an expert on Charleston, so you should definitely listen to me when I advise you to prioritize the swamp garden if you visit Charleston. It is amazing.

There was lots of wildlife to see there, and I’m pretty sure we photographed nearly all of it. McKenna helped out in our photographic exploits.


Even looking at this picture makes me anxious that McKenna is going to drop the camera into the dark and slimy depths of the swamp.

There were nests of birds, turtles, and, on one of the roads, we saw an alligator out sunning itself.


There were signs everywhere warning tourists to avoid alligators and to be sure not to go too close; curiously, though, these tone of these signs was less urgent than that of the peacock warning signs. At any rate, knowing that we should not get too close to the gator…


It’s settled – alligators are more appealing than Fort Sumter.

Eventually, we left the alligator, having neither cornered nor startled it.


However, this picture did appear on the Internet, making it a 100% true.

We wound our way back to the car and headed back towards Charleston. Our campgrounds were fairly close to Folly Beach, and we decided to swing by the beach on the drive.



The chill of the water seems to have fused the spine of the man in the background.

McKenna had requested a visit to the beach, in part to have a chance to renew her love affair with sand.


Sand and camping – they go great together.

Then she chose to take the plunge into the water. The water temperature was in the 60’s, making it ten degrees or so warmer than the air.


After McKenna completed her personal polar challenge, we strolled around the very small town of Folly, looking for a family-friendly place to get a snack. Naturally, we ended up in an Irish Bar.


Our child loves bar fries. This was a sacrifice we made to her needs.

Two of the guys in the Irish bar had been doing a considerable amount of day drinking, and they were loud and unruly enough that they were actually embarrassing their only slightly less drunk friends, one of whom kept casting embarrassed glances our way. Eventually, the embarrassed friend bought us a Guinness as an apology, not knowing that we were high school teachers and, therefore, were barely even aware that people in the restaurant were being disruptive.

Having completed the parenting trifecta of exposing our child to bars, wild animals, and frigid swimming weather, we ended at the more wholesome Battery Park area of Charleston.


Plus, the principles of recency and latency tell us that McKenna is more likely to remember the first and last things we did in Charleston and not, say, the time we spent in an Irish bar.


And then we were off, returning to Midlothian with an enhanced supply of camping equipment and a slighly scratched cartop carrier.


And grateful that this bridge had plenty of clearance.

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